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National News
COVID-19: No lockdown but stricter curbs in Maha from Apr 14
Mumbai: As Maharashtra reels under a severe COVID-19 wave, the MVA government on Tuesday announced over a 15-day-long statewide curfew from April 14, entailing stricter curbs on public activities, to stem the infection spread and flagged a "shortage" of medical oxygen and beds. Stopping short of announcing a full-scale lockdown, as was being speculated, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, in his address to the state via social media, said the curfew, which excludes essential services, will come into effect at 8 pm on April 14 and remain in force till 7 am on May 1. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), dealing with gatherings and assembly of people, will be in force till the "lockdown-like" restrictions are in place, he said. The fresh curbs build on the existing weekend and night curfews in the state.

He refrained from terming the new curbs, announced on a day when Maharashtra recorded 60,212 fresh coronavirus cases and 281 fatalities, as a lockdown. There is a shortage of medical oxygen and beds and the demand for Remdesivir, a key COVID-19 drug, has increased in Maharashtra, he said, adding the Centre should help supply oxygen for coronavirus patients in the state by using Air Force planes. "The war against coronavirus has begun once again," he said. There is a severe strain on Maharashtra''s health infrastructure due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, he added. Painting a grim picture of the infection spread, the chief minister said, The situation is horrifying at present in Maharashtra. The state is carrying out 2.50 lakh COVID-19 tests daily, while the number of COVID-19 care centres has increased from 2,600 the last year to 4,000 as on today."

The number of beds has also increased from 3.25 lakh to 3.50 lakh, he added. Underscoring the need for more supply of oxygen, used for treating critical COVID-19 patients, Thackeray sought help from the Centre. I am putting up a request with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deploy military planes to ferry oxygen stocks from West Bengal or North-Eastern states to Maharashtra to bridge the demand-supply gap," he said. Maharashtra consumes more than 1,200 tonnes of oxygen daily and the entire production of the life-saving gas has been diverted for medical purpose to meeting the growing demand, the chief minister said. The production of Remdesivir was scaled down because of lower demand a few months back. But the injection requires 2-3 weeks period to get mature. "Hence, despite the states demand of around 4,000 dosages daily, we have limitations of its supply," he said.

Thackeray said it is not clear whether the second COVID-19 wave has peaked. It is not clear whether we are at the peak of COVID- 19 cases or not. But we need to follow the route taken by Britain which underwent a strict lockdown and built capacity to vaccinate its population at mass scale. "We need to increase vaccination in the country to slowdown a possible third wave of COVID-19, he said. "I have to unfortunately swallow the bitter pill of announcing strict measures though I am not calling it a lockdown. I am prioritising lives and livelihoods," he said. Thackeray said the fresh curbs were announced after advanced warning. "I have been hinting to people about possible strict measures for the last one month to curb the rising COVID-19 cases," he added. Seeking to minimise the adverse impact of the curbs on a large population, the CM announced a sort of relief package.

The state government will provide three kg wheat and two kg rice free for the next one month to every poor and needy person, Thackeray said. The CM announced a complete ban on movement of people for non-essential works during the restriction period. All essential services, including medical stores hospitals, supply of medicines, among others will remain operational. The local transport will also function for those involved in essential services, he said. The CM made an emotional appeal, seeking people''s support for successful implementation of the curbs. I appeal to people to help the state. I want to know whether people are on the side of coronavirus or the state that wants to break the chain of its spread, he said. A range of other essential services will also remain out of the purview of the curfew.

Services such as vaccination, oxygen production, home delivery of food, operation of e-commerce firms, work at construction sites with residential facility and industrial activities, where accommodation or transportation of personnel is available, will remain unaffected, he said. All banking and financial services, the RBI and its affiliated offices, insurance offices and pre-monsoon works will remained operational, he said. However, there will be a complete ban on religious, social, cultural and political functions in the state till May 1, the CM said. For political rallies ahead of elections, not more than 200 people can attend an event or 50 per cent of the seating capacity of the hall, Thackeray said. Number of participants at marriage and funeral was capped at 25 and 20, respectively.

Saloons, spas, schools, colleges, private coaching classes, beaches, clubs, swimming pools, gyms, drama theatres and cinema halls will remain close during the curfew period, the chief minister said. Though roadside eateries are allowed to operate, buyers can not consume food on the street and only take away will be available, said Thackeray. He announced a financial package of Rs 5,476 crore for the poor whose earnings will be impacted. He said, The Shiv Bhojan service of offering a meal at Rs 5 will be offered for free during the period. The state daily feeds around two lakh people. They will now get the food for free." "Similarly, under the Food Security Act the registered beneficiaries will get three kg of wheat and two kg of rice for free. The period of this free food grain is for one month.

There are seven crore registered beneficiaries," he said. The 12 lakh registered construction workers will get Rs 1,500 during the period while license holding auto-rickshaw operators will get Rs 1,500. There are 12 lakh such auto- rickshaw drivers. Also, the registered hawkers will get Rs 2,500 during the same period, he said.

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